Melpomene, on Raising Daughters

by Susan Slaviero

I am outnumbered. I cannot say
if they are two, or five, these girls
that peck and squabble, leaving

birdtracks on the marble floors.
Parrot, pigeon, magpie. I name
them for the sounds they make,

clutching a knife behind my back
when the nubile one approaches,
that sparrowchested seductress
who thinks she can outsing me. (Girls
need a stern hand, a firm tongue.)
Out back, in the meadow, they pick

at carrion of shipwrecked men,
skinrags hanging from their crimsoned
lips. They toe down crags

of sulfurous rock, melodies swirling
in their oily throats. They will grow
up to be harpies. I know it.

They are never silent.

I plug my ears with beeswax,
weave a cage of reeds for them,
knowing their confinement

will be temporary. Their breasts
bud above downy bellies, violet
plumage, curseblood already

darkening their scaly legs. In dreams,
they are winged virgins,
songs blowing in from shore

at midday, on windless afternoons—
They have the manes of lions.
Lewdness and witchery are dowsed

away in wet notes of lyre and flute,
drowned like bits of twig dropped
from their talons. I am singing

with a club in my left hand,
buskins on my feet. This is not
theater. This is real. Feathers

fall from their backs, and they
are goosepimpled, shivering.
Plucked into a fury of sleep.

Susan Slaviero is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: An Introduction to the Archetypes (Shadowbox Press, 2008) and Apocrypha (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, 2009). Her work has appeared recently in Mythic Delirium, Eclectica, The Dirty Napkin, and Flyway: A Journal of Writing and Environment. She co-edits the online literary journal, blossombones. Susan is fond of pineapple, because it is both prickly and sweet; she admires this complexity, especially in a fruit.

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